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There was another post asking people to share their best practices for bridge club success. This is how we do it. Your mileage may vary.

Musings from the Ownership of Essex Bridge Center, Livingston, NJAlan Powell, Kenneth Powell and Rosalind Powell purchased an existing, small Bridge Club in NJ in1995. At the time, the Club had 7 afternoon and 5 evening Open games; two afternoon 0-499 games;two 0-299 afternoon games. In the beginning, the Powells used the Audrey Grant system for Bridge education, however, this non-playing education system didn’t create bridge players and didn’t feed players into the existing games.Around 2000, we used EasyBridge for Beginners, but we did not see enough retention or the player creation we wanted. Starting in 2002, Roz created the Learn by Playing education program for Beginners that we still use today. Meagan Powell, Alan’s wife, came on board in 2002 to help Roz with the new Beginner program. This new program made a huge difference in creating new players because actual play was embedded in the learning process.

Objective: Create More Duplicate Players For Your Club

Method: Learning While Playing.

The Hook: 6 Free Weeks + one free book. Try it out, see if you like it.

Players receive a free copy of our Level 1 Book after they fill out a form with their names, contact information and a quick survey of how they found us. No anonymous guests. No Form, No Book. No Seat. Name Tags with full name are mandatory. We fill out the name tags the first week while registering. Free books are given out through the 6 week free period to new players. Players must be physically present to receive a book. No books are given out for spouses or friends who cannot attend that week.

Staff: One excellent, dynamic, fun teacher who keeps thing exciting.(Enough Bridge skill to do the job is necessary, but too much bridge skill is often detrimental)

One Assistant for every 4-5 tables.(Assistants can be anything from experienced players, to Directors, to players who have just completed the Beginner course. They need to understand the mechanics and content, but not try to disseminate more information than the teacher requires.Less is sometimes more when picking an assistant.)

One guy out in the parking lot directing overflow traffic and pointing people in the right direction. (This is usually me but I am not bitter about it anymore.) A well-placed sign may be just as effective.

One note about how the weekly class is taught:The teacher goes through the lecture in each class without answering questions.We tell classes to hold their questions because the answer may become apparent in the next breath, or that we will address most frequent questions a little later in the lecture. We don’t often answer questions at all during the lecture, instead preferring to answer questions individually after the lecture while we are getting the game up and running. This method allows us to disseminate the information in the package we want (not providing too much information that is unnecessary in the beginning) and avoiding being sidetracked by players who want/need to know very single detail about a concept (which is just not usually helpful in true Beginner classes).

Week 1: Intro To Bridge In 2.5 Hours. September Start Every YearPlayers learn the mechanics of playing a hand. We focus on play first, then focus on bidding as we go along. Players who have never used a deck of cards will learn everything from the meaning of the symbols on the cards to the meaning of tricks, declarer, dummy, trumps, auction, contracts (making or not) and more over the space of 4 prepared hands played at the table. Additional time if there is any (some groups are faster than others), is filled by actual dealing and playing by the seat of their pants (with assistance from the teacher and assistants)

 

Week 2: Bridge skills: Counting Points, Opening the bidding, Very Basic ResponsesDuplicate mechanics: Bidding Boxes, Scoring on travelers (Contract, Declarer, Made or Down only No Numeric Scores)Players do not move, 2 boards to a table, boards move down but not regimented by time.

Lecture time is about 1.5 hours followed by a break and then play of hands specifically created for the lesson. Play time about 1 hour. Players should be discouraged from leaving early before the time is up. Reminders early and often will help them understand they have to complete the game in later weeks. Allowing bad habits early will come back to haunt you.

 

Week 3: Bridge Skills: Major Suit Fits, Responder Ranges and GameDuplicate Mechanics: Moving Day, Players and Boards move as in a regular duplicate game. Players must move! Don’t go soft and let them stay with their friends one more week. If they won’t move, they will never be duplicate players anyway. In all the years we have been making people move, only one table has ever declined and left. Scoring is the same as week 2.

Lecture time is about 50 minutes followed by play of hands specifically created for the lesson.

 

Week 4: Bridge Skills: 4-4 Fits, Openers Ranges and GameDuplicate Mechanics: Numerical Scoring

Lecture time is about 50 minutes followed by play of hands specifically created for the lesson with some hands from the previous week’s lesson mixed in.

 

Week 5: Bridge Skills: Overcalls and responses with a fitDuplicate Mechanics: Nothing new but this week you need to get most of your players to play 10 hands. It’s a short lecture to facilitate more play time.

Lecture time 30 minutes or less. This week is part of setting the hook. You will award masterpoints at the start of the following week (their last free week.)

 

Week 6: Trump play of the Hand: Pulling trump is the topic of discussion.Mechanics: Passing out of the masterpoints won last week before the lecture.(Although we mention the ACBL and masterpoints, we do not try to sign them up at this point. Players can join on their own during the year, but are encouraged to join when their one year anniversary comes.)

Lecture time 30 minutes or less. Lecture is done with an actual practice hand made up and on each table. Players manipulate the cards during the lecture. Remind Players to bring small bills next week for their first paying week.

Week 7-16: You now have a functioning duplicate game that awards masterpoints. Each week will have a short lecture (25 minutes or less), followed by 10+ hands (the plus is a joke at week 7 but at week 16 some groups are at 12 hands). Our Level 1 class has 16 weeks of material which contains the basic bidding package. This usually takes them through mid-late January (with days off for various holidays).

After Level 1 Comes Level 2 which has the same 16 weeks of lessons (starting with week 3 but not in the same order), but with additional detail to flesh them out and brand new exercises. This usually takes players through May, and sometimes into the beginning of June.

After Level 2 we are in summer. We usually continue playing throughout the summer in our Level 3 program. Here, the lessons focus more on play-of-the-hand concepts and applications while still playing in duplicate games.

At the end of their first year of Bridge (September – August), players continue on the same day and time into their 2nd year of Bridge. The 2nd year of Bridge doesn’t offer much in the way of new topics (a couple), but instead offers players a chance to reinforce and plateau. In this 2nd year, we take the hardest topics from the first year and cover a more in-depth version of them. We cover a topic over 3-4 weeks with extra nuance. The idea is that after 2 full years of Bridge in Beginner and Advanced Beginner Duplicate groups, players will have heard all of basic Standard American Bridge in some depth. At the beginning of their 3rd year, players will either move up into a higher-level Lesson-Game group or move laterally into a 2nd year group to hear the most recent topics again.

Workshops

Starting in Week 2 or 3, there are Saturday Morning Workshops that go along with the Beginner class.These workshops run nearly every Saturday on non-holiday weekends throughout the entire first year of Beginner classes.

We start these workshops early in order to 1) reinforce class information in a different format, improving overall retention when they get to the paying weeks; 2) allow players who missed the first 2 weeks of regular class to get the catch-up information they need to slide into the regular weekly class; 3) gain some revenue during these non-paying regular class weeks (they DO pay for these lessons).They also provide an alternate lesson structure for those who prefer traditional instruction. However, we don’t consider it a substitute for playing in the weekly Duplicate Lesson-Game for Beginners.

These are in-depth 2+ hour lessons at a time where both the evening and morning groups can attend. There is no game and all hands played are geared toward the lesson and covered thoroughly by the teacher. These workshops allow time for questions and answers in a manner that we don’t have time to address in class. They provide the additional detail, the in-depth detail, about a subject that can’t be covered in the short lesson before play in the weekly Duplicate Lesson-Game lecture.

We usually start out with about 4 tables. Word-of-mouth usually pushes attendance to 7-12 tables during the semester.

There is an optional workbook for purchase and fee for each class attended. This helps offset some of the expenses for free lessons and book.

Advertising

We advertise for two weeks in all the local papers for about $1200 total, 50% of which may be covered by the ACBL. Local papers cover about 12-15 total towns near us. Looking forward to trying some of the targeted Facebook stuff this year.90% or more of students list a friend as how they heard of us. Word of mouth takes time to build but it is the most effective method of advertising we have found.

Starting Class Size

Monday Starts are by far the best. Evening Classes run about 17-20 tables to start. Morning Classes run 11-14 tables to start.

Wednesday Starts are a little smaller. Evening Classes run 12-16 tables to start. Morning Classes 10-13 tables to start.

(These are the times we can fit in our regular game schedules. We alternate years so that once we start a Beginner class they have 2 years available in their time slot before it turns over.)

Retention

The larger the group, the harder it will be to hold attendance.Players are allowed to jump back and forth between the sessions as they please. They can even play twice if they choose but if the free weeks are over they have to pay twice as well. The people you start with on the first night, are not necessarily the people you end up with on the first paying week. People drop out. People join the class in progress. People bring their friends, enemies and/or spouses. People who dropped out in previous years come back. People who played the whole year start over again because they didn't learn anything the first time through. People who you swear are going to be fantastic bridge players will disappear. People who you think will never be able to play will surprise you.

These are some of our prior year startups. I have compiled the data from ACBLScore after they started earning masterpoints. The attendance of the first few weeks is lost to history.

2017 Monday Evening 6:30-9:00

  • Week 5 20 tables Free
  • Week 6 19.5 tables Last Free Week
  • Week 7 14.5 tables paying full entry fee moving forward
  • Week 8 15 tables
  • Week 9 16.5 tables
  • Week 10 12.5 tables
  • Week 11 15 tables

Monday Morning 9:10-11:40

  • Week 5 10.5 tables Free
  • Week 6 10 tables Last Free Week
  • Week 7 10 tables paying full entry fee moving forward
  • Week 8 11 tables
  • Week 9 10.5 tables
  • Week 10 12.5 tables
  • Week 11 11.5 tables

2016 was a complex year because the 6th Wednesday fell on Yom Kippur for which we are closed due to our demographics. So we pushed masterpoints up a week to set the hook before they took a week off. Continuity is a key element of keeping attendance high, but some years the calendar does not cooperate.

2016 Wednesday Eve 6:30-9:00

  • Week 4 13.5 tables Free
  • Week 5 12.5 tables Free
  • Week Off
  • Week 6 11 tables Last Free Week
  • Week 7 12.5 tables paying full entry fee moving forward
  • Week 8 12.5 tables
  • Week 9 9 tables
  • Week10 9.5 tables

Wednesday Morn 9:10- 11:40

  • Week 4 15.5 tables Free
  • Week 5 15.5 tables Free
  • Week Off
  • Week 6 13.5 tables Last Free Week
  • Week 7 12.5 tables paying full entry fee moving forward
  • Week 8 12.5 tables
  • Week 9 9 tables
  • Week 10 9.5 tables

Expenses and Payoff

Advertising, Staff, Refreshments and Free Books add up to around $4k total counting both morning and evening. We don't start turning a profit until somewhere between week 12 and week 16 depending on attendance and how well the workshops do. (Don't forget to subtract the ongoing costs for each week first) 

Continuity and Community

In order to retain students, their cars need to come to the bridge club every week. You can't change times. You can't change locations. Same Club, Same Time, Same Channel. If you end your class and expect new players to join an existing game or class, you will lose some or all of them. They will be intimidated by people they think know more than they do and disappear. Encourage people to play with different partners so they will come even if their regular partner cannot. (We always provide a partner for a single player. It is the main purpose of having an Assistant Director in Lesson Games. An Assistant Director will play with a single who doesn’t have a partner or who cannot be partnered with players in the room.)Encourage people who have to miss a week or two to read up and return. Be available or have an assistant available to answer questions before class so people can return comfortably.

Over time, people develop new friends. They start to come earlier to chat before the lesson. For the first night, 80% of the crowd arrives in the last 10 minutes or up to 5 minutes late. After a year, most of them arrive 20-30 minutes early. Bridge becomes something they do once a week, something they recommend to their friends and spouses.

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